Advocacy, Galle, Human Rights, Language, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

GLF: A space for activists?

A playground for Colombo’s “artsy fartsy?” A personal initiative by G. Dobbs (Founder) to increase the per capita income of G. Dobbs? A promotional tactic to draw tourists to our fair land? An ideal getaway for the middle and upper classes to catch up with old friends and make merry? A platform for cultural and literary exchange and constructive discussion/debate? An ideal forum for writers and participants to engage and learn from one another? The Galle Literary Festival (GLF) is probably a combination of all this put together. I’m no ‘party pooper,’  and that’s all well and good. But, is it permissible to claim that the festival provides “relatively ‘safe’ spaces for literary and political exploration and debate” and is a forum at which the “real situation of the country” can be brought to light?

I find this particular claim to be quite difficult to digest. Firstly, because it has been stated by a well -respected human rights activist of Sri Lanka – Sunila Abeysekera, and secondly, because I strongly believe that although on an individual level, people can use the GLF to air their views on many things including politics, claiming that the GLF at large is a space to raise awareness on political issues is only giving it undue credit. It’s like claiming Hollywood to be a hub for activists, just because a handful of actors/actresses advocate for their respective pet causes.

Whilst agreeing that Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) calling for a “boycott” of the GLF on the grounds that the international writers attending will “give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan Government’s suppression of free speech” – Appeal To Boycott Galle Literary Festival, is an extreme and somewhat counter-productive measure, I also flatly refuse to accept that the GLF as an entity is one that nurtures or encourages an environment of dissent and political debate. The agenda for the GLF is clearly set as one of commercial gain. Furthermore, given the close linkages that the GLF has with the Government run Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau  (Sri Lanka Tourism), I highly doubt that the organizers would find it in their best interests to ‘rock the boat’ as it were.

In addition, Sunila’s statement that “it is extremely disappointing to find those who defend media freedom in Sri Lanka playing a role in depriving us of an opportunity to express ourselves and our desire for a democratic and peaceful environment in which to live and work, with a broader community from outside the country,” too, I feel gives way too much importance and significance to an event, which in reality, has a rather lukewarm approach to the promotion of human rights related issues, and that too, if at all. Even though the likes of Sunila would be brave enough to maximize on every opportunity cast her way,, it by no means speaks for the agenda of the GLF, and what it intends to achieve.

All I ask is that you call a spade a spade. Nothing more. Nothing less. Whilst, I respectfully acknowledge, and am abundantly grateful for the tireless, and often thankless work that Sunila has done in the field of human rights in our country, often at the cost of her personal security, I am saddened to say that this one time, she couldn’t be more wrong.